Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Books Worth Reading...and Teaching!

What book do you think should be taught in an elementary school classroom and why?

From time to time a teacher will ask me this very question.  Teachers are always on the hunt for the “greatest” book…that one special book that will push their students into the wonderful world of avid lifelong readers.  This always sends book title after book title flying through my mind. 

I could tell them that all students must know and love Ish by Peter Reynolds.  This wonderfully simple book teaches students to just try…to go out in the world and try their very best.  The illustrations in this book are playful and inviting, and I've never read it to a class that didn't love it.  I could tell them to read Ish, but that’s not the title I give them.

Another possible great book might be Pink and Say or Thunder Cake or any of the other wonderful titles from Patricia Polacco.  As a reader, her word choice draws me into the heart of each story she tells.  I can see myself cowering behind a tree as Confederate Soldiers murder Say’s mother.  As a writer I’m drawn to the way she combines sentences to create a stream of consciousness effect that I so badly want to imitate.  I could tell teachers to read anything by Patricia Polacco, but I don’t give them her name, either.

From time to time, I want to hand teachers a copy of Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford.  This fantastic book teaches students about tolerance, courage, strength, and the goodness that people have in their hearts.  Word choice makes this an excellent mentor text for young writers.  The last page has made it into my own “grown-up” list of great ways to bring closure to a story.  Freedom on the Menu is one of my newest all-time favorite books, but that’s not the one I tell teachers to teach.

In truth, when teachers ask me about a book they simply must teach in their classrooms, I don’t give them a title, an author, or subject matter.  In truth, I tell them that it really doesn’t matter what book they teach.  What matters is that they, the teacher, truly love the book…that they teach books that mean something to them…a book given by a special friend…something they read as a child…a book that was a turning point for them…a book that speaks to their heart.  A book that truly means something to a teacher is a book that students must know.  When we teach with these books, our love for reading comes out loud and clear. 

So what book do I use most often to teach?  I use the Berenstain Bears.  (Yes, I know that’s more than one book…but I can’t narrow it down to just one.)  On the top of a book shelf in my office sits the collection of Berenstain Bear books that my brother, sister, and I collected as children.  These books are tattered, torn, and our names are written all over them in our elementary school handwriting.  I remember my parents reading these books to us to teach us about the world and making strong choices, but I remember loving them for the fun they showed.  They made us laugh, cry, feel scared, uplifted, and courageous all at the same time.  I use Berenstain Bear books with students in the hopes that they will love them as much as I did and still do.  I teach with Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister because they matter to me, and I sincerely hope they matter to my students.

And yes, I use all of those other books, too, and I use too many more to name…and I am always on the hunt for the next great book my students will love.  Great books are how we engage students in the standards they must master in order to be ready to greet the world as a productive citizen.  If the teacher loves it, the students will love it, too.  The love we have for a book is what makes it worthy of teaching.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Tomorrow morning I will wake up, get ready for school, and begin my tenth year in teaching. My journey in this profession that I love has been filled with unexpected twists and turns, but I wouldn't have it any other way. There's no job I would rather do. In my soul, I know that I am a teacher. 

Ten years ago I crawled into bed scared out of my mind. Twenty-five first graders would be greeting me in the morning, I would be responsible for them from 8-3 for the next 178 school days. Why anyone thought I was ready for that is still beyond me. Somehow they all managed to learn.  I'm pretty sure my co-workers gave me a stacked class that year...and as those now 10th graders walk into their classes in the morning, I'll think of them and the great things they have in store for them. 

Ten years ago I knew that I had some incredible ladies in my corner. I knew then, and I know now, that Gina and Nancy were/are watching over me...guiding me...leading me...mentoring me...praying for me. Helping me to be my very best. gratitude knows no bounds. I am eternally thankful for you. 

Tonight, as I lay my head on my pillow, I spend a few minutes praying for Courtney and Jessica just as my mentors prayed for me. If I can be for them even half of what those fantastic friends have been for me...

Here's to another school year!!!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Though She Be But Little...

"Though she be but little, she is fierce!"

My friend...I'm pretty sure Shakespeare had you in mind when he penned those words.  In fact, the first time I saw you I remember thinking, "It's no wonder she teaches first grade...if she taught anything higher, the kids would be taller than the teacher!"  Not too long after I thought it, you said something very similar..."I can't teach higher than second grade...the kids can't be taller than the teacher."  You laughed...I laughed...Nancy laughed...and in that moment I knew that I had found my teaching family.  With the two of you in my corner, I knew there was NOTHING I couldn't accomplish.  You were my starting comforting shoulders...and the bringers of tissues when the dam broke and the tears flowed.  We were a team.  You were my team.

"Don't follow that basal series," you said.  "It's not good enough.  You are better than that."  And so I didn't.  I didn't that first year...and I haven't followed one since.  I followed you and Barbara and Nancy.  You taught me to teach my kids what they needed to learn...the use the resources I had to teach the standards on the think for myself and not get bogged down with what the script told me to do.  "That script doesn't know your doesn't know what they need.  Only YOU know what they need.  Use that script to get started, and then run with it.  Trust your gut."  And so I did...and I still do.  I did whatever you told me to do.  I did what you least...I TRIED to do what you did.  Even though I was nowhere close to where you were, my kids learned.  And you said, "You are a great teacher."  And I said, "I'm just doing what you told me to's YOU that is the great teacher." 

And off we went.  Whether I was right next door, across the hall, or in another building were in my corner.  You were my mentor.  After a smile and a hug you'd ask, "How are you?"  And the look on your face told me I couldn't lie.  You would never be satisfied, "I'm good."  The sparkle in your eyes always reassured me, and I knew I could tell you that I was scared...hopeful...terrified...stressed...angry...fantastic...I could tell the truth.  My truth.  And no matter what I said, I knew you would be there for me.  Supporting me.

You were always there for me no matter what was going on in your own world.  No matter how you felt mentally or physically...your heart was always open.  You knew when to back away and take care of yourself and when to open up and let others help you.  You knew when to ask for help and when to offer it whether I wanted it or not.  You just knew. 

And so I thank you.  Thank you for supporting me and others like me.  Thank you for teaching me how to listen to my teaching gut.  Thank you for showing me that it's ok to go against the grain.  That it's ok to fight for what a kid needs.  That it's ok to say, "I just don't know what to do next."

Thank you for believing in me.  For pushing me.  For showing me that there's always another way.  For trying to teach me to balance (I know...I know...I've got a lot to learn on this one.)

Thank you for showing me how to fight.
Thank you for being my mentor.
Thank you for being my friend.

For Gina
You are loved.  And will be deeply missed.